Q&A: Greg Lehmkuhl of Terrain on holiday decorating

Greg Lehmkuhl
Oct 25, 2018

Greg Lehmkuhl is the creative director of Terrain, the garden, home and outdoor lifestyle brand. Terrain is celebrating their first book being published "Terrain: Ideas and Inspiration for Decorating the Home & Garden". Greg is a native of Wisconsin and grew up in a family of plantspeople. Each season, Terrain introduces products and fresh discoveries for decorating your garden and home. The winter holidays are a major effort. The flagship Terrain opened on the site of a historic nursery in Glen Mills, Pa. and now there are other locations. He's got great ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

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Greg Lehmkuhl is the creative director of Terrain, the garden, home and outdoor lifestyle brand. Terrain is celebrating their first book being published "Terrain: Ideas and Inspiration for Decorating the Home & Garden". They also just opened a new capsule Terrain inside the new Anthropologie in downtown Bethesda. Greg is a native of Wisconsin and grew up in a family of plantspeople. Each season, Terrain introduces products and fresh discoveries for decorating your garden and home and winter holidays are a major time for new designs.  He's got great ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Let's chat.

Hey everyone, thanks for joining us. We're just taking a short break from setting our Christmas Shop up in Glen Mills, so we are feeling the season.

How can I convince clients that they will enjoy the holidays more if they edit and simplify their decorations, the food, the parties, the gifts... the whole shebang? Some organizing clients are already on board. Instead of decorating, they go on a vacation, maybe a cruise. Others refuse to let go of even one tradition. They argue against every suggestion, as in: "But my mother always ______." Or, "My husband would be so disappointed if we didn't do ________, but he'll never help me." Or, "No, I can't bear to get rid of any of these decorations, we'll just have to find room for them someplace. Maybe we'll park the car in the driveway for awhile." How can I encourage and convince them to keep the best and shed the rest, when the holidays are such an emotional time?

It sounds like you're experiencing the same problem we all do. The season is about sharing and finding a happy medium. In my family, the way we navigated through those situations was to compromise. One year my dad would get to display his over-the-top collection of family heirloom German glass ornaments (there were at least 1,000) and the next year my mom would get to display her Scandinavian birch bark ornaments for a simpler tree. Let me tell you, as kids responsible for putting up and taking down all of the ornaments we always liked the simpler tree.

Can they do custom arrangements?

We do. Our specialty is planted custom arrangements, and you can find more about them here or by stopping into a store to talk to our gardeners: https://www.shopterrain.com/design-by-terrain/

Deer eat everything in my front yard. What can I put up my steps that would look festive for the holiday season yet not be eaten by deer?

This question is a dear to me. There's always boxwood, but if you want to go with something in the pine family deer typically stay away from all of the firs. A favorite of mine is abies 'koreana' commonly known as Korean fir and known for having many cones on a juvenile tree.

I order many amaryllis bulbs every November to start for the holiday season. Any other way that I may showcase them or other plants to add?

One of our favorites things to show with blooming amaryllis are armatures of various winter stems. Some of the best are 'Midwinter Fire' dogwood because of its orange-to-red colors and curly willow for it's bright orange. These add a growing structure that add some color to the arrangement before your bulbs bloom and prevents the flowers from falling over.



I've bought myrtle topiary trees several times for my mantel. What is the best way to keep these tiny balls of green alive? They dry out so easily. Yet I know you can't over water then either. Thanks.

We have the same problem in the store but we love them so we've figured out that keeping them in a very shallow tray of water let's them drink what they need. If you can't do that, I would recommend a good self-watering pot that has a reservoir with a wicking system. You can actually make your own with torch wicks and a pot that sits elevated inside another larger pot.

I'm looking to do some winter planters - what's your favorite tree or bush that will last last through the winter?

By far my favorites are varieties that have interesting sculptural character. For example, the atlas cedars or the deodor cedars. Weeping Alaskan cedars also make a dramatic statement. Oftentimes you can get young trees for a great deal at the end of the season so now would be the time to look.

Why is Terrain located inside Anthropologie?

This is a great question. When Anthropologie first opened back in 1992, I helped set up the first several stores and we actually had a garden section. What we quickly learned was that, while beautiful, plants have their own special needs in a store situation. Fast forward 20 years and Terrain is that solution.

The mini Terrains that you see now in Anthropologie are  sample stores for what we love to do in our larger freestanding stores and online. We feel they're important to spread the word about Terrain.

What are some good ideas for our empty window boxes for the holiday season in the cold climate?

If you're like me with a more adventurous gardening style, I'd recommend making a miniature forest with a row of black spruce tips.

What personal family tradition do you most look forward to around the holidays?

When I get home to Wisconsin on Christmas Eve, it's my job to put lights on a fresh cut Christmas Tree out near the road.

I like to start bulbs of amaryllis that will bloom during Christmas week. How many days before December 25 should I start one?

Generally the rule is 6 weeks prior to December 25th, so you would want to start them on or about 11/11.

A lot of churches and other organizations have greens sales during December. I get as much boxwood as i can and stuff it into window boxes and my outside pots. Over the winter, it gradually fades from the deep green to a pale straw colour. In the sprint, I just yank it out and chuck it. PigtownDesign.com

Wonderful idea. Thank you!

Good morning... I always hang outside wreaths on my front windows for the holidays. I have changed the ribbons I use from time to time but wonder if you have any other ideas to jazz up this classic look?

If you're looking for an alternative to classic ribbon, I use things like red-striped upholstery banding or torn strips of cotton velvet for color. Anything that has more humble origins is nice. In our travels overseas, I have noticed a downtrend in looped bows, which I find refreshing. The flourish of a simple ribbon wrapped once around a wreath and left to hang is quite elegant.

We're hosting Thanksgiving dinner and I was wondering what's your favorite way to make a dining table feel festive without cluttering the space?

One of my favorite displays in the store uses our wreath hanger suspended above the table so you're not overcrowding the actual table.

A wreath with a simple base of honeysuckle vine, dried and fresh festive greenery and some battery operated lights are good ingredients to begin with.



I bought some battery-powered candles for my windows last holiday season, and they ended up looking pretty lame -- not nearly enough light, so you can't really see them from the street. Any recommendations for something that looks great? I'd prefer not to have to plug them in, but I do have outlets available near the windows, so I could if necessary.

I like that you're asking the question about seeing it from the road, because that's a big concern we hear from customers coming into the store. We have a battery-operated moving flame that's beautiful but best experienced up close. But from the road I find that a cool-burning 4-watt nightlight bulb is the best from a distance to give the most realistic color of a real flame. I would avoid anything orange.

What kind of wreath materials do you think will be popular this year, other than the usual go-tos?

We have some very unusual fresh bunches coming in this year. I'm excited about the rose gold eucalyptus, bleached pine cones, and -- for a more dramatic focal point -- dried protea blossoms are making a strong showing this year. 

Thanks Greg. We'll be needing all those holiday decorating ideas in the weeks to come. Next week tune in for Sandy Chilewich, an inventive designer known for her placemats, floormats and textiles, plus much more. Have a good week.

Put a couple of 7 year olds and a puppy with a long tail in charge of decorating the tree. My friend and I managed to break a LOT of her mom's glass ornaments. The really nostalgic ones (the plastic sleigh with felt reindeer, lamby, etc.) survived just fine. Fortunately, her mom was very laid back (emergency room nurse, nothing that didn't look to be likely to take off a limb phased her) and didn't care as long as we had fun. Plus, she was usually busy in the kitchen giving my mom tea and cookies and making more cookies.

Oh my. Well, it's one way to do it!

What is your favorite way to decorate outside for the holidays? If you want your house to stand out from all the neighbors! Is it lights in a non-traditional way? Fresh garland? Winterberry and osage oranges? What would you recommend?

This is a great question and one of the main themes we address in the new book. There are many ways to answer it, and the good news is that it can be fun and rewarding to come up with a different approach each season. The important thing is to keep looking at the materials you have available differently and that nature provides the best ingredients. Keep looking to nature and have fun.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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